You wake up with every intention of going to spin class straight from the office. But then you have lunch with your co-worker, who wrinkles her nose at your exercise plans and launches into a monologue about how much time and money she has wasted on workouts that don't, well, work.
Meanwhile, she orders the loaded cheese fries and complains that healthy foods are too expensive and don't fill her up. Every time you try to counter one of her complaints, there's another one right behind it—sort of like peeling away the layers of a very pungent-smelling onion.
By the time lunch is over, your motivation has taken a nosedive, and you're seriously considering canceling spin class is favor of happy hour. Besides, after all the cheese fries you just ate, what's the point?
Negativity is a powerful thing—and it's extremely contagious. If you let them, the Debbie and Donnie Downers of the world will lead you astray from your good intentions and into their world of grumbles, groans and excuses. As the old saying goes, "misery loves company."
On the other hand, if you'd been dining with an upbeat, positive co-worker who encouraged your dedication to spin class, and didn't scoff at your choice of a healthy soup and salad, you likely would have returned to the office feeling excited about your workout and proud of your lunchtime choices.
The Importance of Positive Influences
Scott Miller, EVP of thought leadership for FranklinCovey and host of the On Leadership Podcast, says there are two types of people in the world: energy infusers and energy depleters. Energy infusers leave you feeling energized and invigorated, confident in your ability to tackle the day's challenges and make headway toward your goals. The depleters, on the other hand, may leave you feeling drained and discouraged, and more likely to give up and take the less challenging—and less rewarding—path.
According to trained psychologist Lisa Sansom, research shows that there is such a thing as "emotional contagion." "This essentially means that you can 'catch' both positive and negative emotions from other people—someone else's emotional state or mood can 'infect' you and you can start to feel the same way." If you want to feel happy, motivated and energized, she notes, a smart strategy is to surround yourself with people who already possess those attributes.
How to Spot a Negative Person
As Miller points out, negative people often have a "scarce mentality," meaning they think others are out to get them or take advantage of them. "They often feel there is a limited amount of time, fame, food or resources, and they need to 'take' theirs first and quickly, before others get to them," he says. They also tend to focus more on what goes wrong in their lives, blaming setbacks for their lack of progress.
As psychologist and life coach Ana Jovanovic from ParentingPod points out, these types of people often find a way to put a negative spin on any comment or observation. For example, if you announce that you're training for a 5K, they might mention the potential for injury, or even question your sanity.
Negative people also tend to regard obstacles as permanent barriers to achieving their goals, Jovanovic notes. They may also lack accountability, blaming the circumstances rather than taking ownership of a problem and working to overcome it. What's more, people with a pessimistic outlook are typically resistant to change. "They develop theories of how they, people around them or the circumstances cannot be any different from what they are—and what they are is bad," says Jovanovic.
Why do some people default to negativity? Miller believes it's often due to a lack of a positive role model. "These limited paradigms may be from some specific life experiences—it could be that their parents taught them to view the world and others this way," he says. "Or maybe they've simply fallen into these ineffective life patterns and aren't self-aware enough to behave their way to a new life."
How to Spot a Positive Person
Positive people generally choose to be thankful and grateful, viewing problems as opportunities for learning and growth. They have what Miller calls an "abundance mentality," recognizing that with some resourcefulness and initiative, anything can be accomplished. "Simply put, they proactively replace negative thoughts with positive, grateful ones," Miller says.
Those with a positive mindset also recognize that they are not a product of their circumstances, but rather their own choices and actions. "They identify their values and align their mission, time, finances and life around them," Miller notes. "They set clear boundaries, and are willing to say no to 'good' so they can instead say yes to 'great.'"
Marketing director Robyn Itule notes that positive people tend to embrace a growth mindset that is focused on learning, calling to mind the saying from Nelson Mandela: "Either I win or I learn."
"The world is going to act on all of us—it will ask us to change, to shift course," Itule says. "Staying put and clinging to the status quo is a surefire way to either grow incredibly tired or lose a positive perspective. Adopting a growth mindset takes the chaos of the day-to-day and turns it into a gift to power the future. Positive people actively seek out that potential and embrace it."
Those with an upbeat attitude will also model positive behaviors, Jovanovic adds. "They are ready to invest in changing their own habits: eating healthier, exercising more, practicing self-care, building relationships with others and so on," she says. "They show you that change is possible, and are ready to encourage you and share their experiences while you are attempting to make your own change."
How to Deal With Negative People
While your initial instinct might be to coax a negative person into a brighter, happier place, Miller warns that it's difficult enough to change your own behavior, let alone someone else's. Trying to get someone to act or speak differently will likely leave you frustrated and the other person offended. Instead, try one of these smarter strategies.
Practice compassion. As Jovanovic points out, some people expect the worst of situations as a part of their survival or coping strategy. In addition, Itule tries to follow the adage: "Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about." Like gratitude, compassion can have profound effects on the people around us. "Having compassion for a person with a negative attitude does you and them a favor: It saves you from their negativity having any power over your feelings, and it gives them a gift of experiencing someone acting positively toward them,” notes Jovanovic.
Be a model. Instead of wasting your energy trying to change a negative person, Miller recommends focusing on yourself, and how you speak and behave. "Be a model of what you want to see in others," he suggests. "Most people will come to see you as someone they admire and respect. Let them be drawn to positivity on their own. Seek to be a transition figure in other people's lives by being a great model of what you value. It's not easy or quick, but it's by far the best option for making an impact."
When all else fails, remove yourself from the situation. Sansom notes that negative people often drain your energy, to the point that you can actually feel it when you are around them. "It may not necessarily be what they say explicitly, and you may not quite be able to put your finger on it, but when you feel your energy starting to leave, it's time to exit and recharge," she says. "Bring yourself back to a more positive state with exercise, rest, positive social engagements or getting something done and feeling accomplished."
While it's unrealistic to expect to be optimistic and positive 24/7, Sansom notes that people who take a "glass half full" view of the world have been shown to experience greater success and growth in all areas of life. "Generally speaking, a more positive, energized approach will be better for your health, career and relationships," she says. "Seek out those positive people around you so you can 'catch' the positivity."
More From SparkPeople